Halsey Keetch talk again to Karis Stander, Managing Director of Investment 20/20, on ‘Hiring for Potential,’ and a look at the recent work and progress of the initiative.

Following a lengthy early career in the training sector supporting the financial services industry working with bodies such as the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment and the Financial Services Authority, Karis Stander joined Investment20/20, a newly created industry initiative, in 2014. Investment20/20’s aim was to diversify the talent joining the investment sector at entry / pre-graduation / graduate level by raising awareness of and facilitating professional accessibility to the industry amongst this demographic. Karis has led a dedicated programme of grassroots outreach to over 3,700 schools, colleges and universities, aimed at developing the industry’s long-term talent pipeline by showcasing the opportunities it can offer to graduates and school leavers. Under her leadership, the organisation has seen more than 1,300 trainees enter the investment industry through over 40 partner firms. Last year, on behalf of Investment20/20, Karis collected the Financial News Award for Innovation in Asset Management and the Investment Week Women in Investment Award for Contribution to Diversity.

HK: Could you tell us a bit about the work and progress of Investment20/20 over the past couple of years?

KS: Over the last six years, Investment20/20 has gone beyond the traditional approaches to attracting new talent to our industry and provides access to opportunities to school leavers and graduates from diverse backgrounds across our 50 partner firms. 1,600 young people have gone or are going through our one-year trainee programme, which has matched them up with investment management career opportunities. This then provides them with a network of trainees and career support, whilst also giving them the option at the end of the year to reflect on whether it’s right for them. In the last few months alone we’ve also been expanding our offering through our Think Investments masterclasses, that upskill school leavers and graduates so that they can apply to join our industry, and through our new work experience placements.

HK: The industry is changing, and the new decade brings with it opportunities alongside significant challenges. What do you think the investment industry needs to prioritise when it comes to attracting the best talent over the next ten years?

KS: Our industry must prioritise the support we provide to young people once they’ve joined the industry. It’s great that we’re encouraging young people to consider investment management as a career option open to them, but we also need to ensure that we embed a culture within firms that welcomes and encourages people from different backgrounds and enables them to the make the contribution of which they are capable. This must be a focus of the industry moving forward.

HK: How does the average young school or college leaver or graduate perceive the financial services industry? Is the reputation of the industry improving?

KS: Investment management is still not an industry that resonates with young people. With no high street presence, nor a clear window into young peoples’ lives, the industry is not visible. But when Investment20/20 sits down with young people, whether that’s through our Think Investments masterclasses that provide sessions designed to make young people application-ready, or when our Investment Ambassadors go into schools to plant the seed of a career in investment management in their minds, they really open up to the prospect. It’s hard to imagine an industry you’re a million miles from. But when someone tells you investment management is a career path open to you and explains our industry’s social purpose, not only can you start to picture where you might fit in, you start to imagine a welcoming industry that genuinely wants you to be part of it.

HK: It sounds as though it’s a case of raising awareness almost from ‘square one’ in many cases, but great to hear that the response is positive once that door has been opened. This is a two-way conversation, of course; a central message of your work to the industry is the need to recruit for potential, rather than looking for a set of gleaming academics, or trying to ‘match’ a candidate to a particular role based on past experience. Do you come across any resistance to the hiring of individuals with a range of backgrounds, experiences and academic backgrounds?

KS: There can still be resistance in both directions, although we are of course endeavouring to break that down and initiatives like this are definitely opening the industry’s eyes as a whole to the potential of diversity. For many young people applying for roles across financial services, unless you are a really academic student or have gone to the right feeder university into the industry, you are still facing an uphill struggle. These barriers are needless though as they aren’t barometers of future potential and only serve to keep people out of financial services. Instead we should be looking at their life experience, what they enjoy doing, and personal attributes and skills that relate to the requirements of the roles in question and the wider departments in which they will be working. This is what we’ve tried to do with our ‘Hiring for Potential’ booklet for hiring managers – outlining how it is the responsibility of everyone to work towards delivering more inclusive recruitment and developing the promise of our young people. Firms make a decision whether they want to partner with Investment20/20 and they are doing so in numbers because they understand the business-critical need to diversify the industry’s talent pool.

HK: Are you optimistic that organisations are really hearing and responding quickly enough to key messages when it comes to diversity and inclusion and the hiring agenda?

KS: There are always people who feel uncomfortable with change and who aren’t yet sold on why we need to invest in drawing from a broader pool of talent. But the conversation has changed significantly within the last few years and it is incumbent upon all of us to keep making the case for diversity and demonstrating its success. Some people will come naturally to the cause of greater diversity because it is fair and the right thing to do for society, but for others we need to be steadfast with the facts: a diverse workforce – at all levels – leads to robust governance, and better decision-making, both of which the investment industry constantly requires.

HK: Where Investment20/20 works with a new member to hire into the industry, is the outcome usually positive?

KS: More than three quarters of the 1,600 trainees that have joined a trainee programme within an industry firm have then gone on to be permanently employed by that firm. This shows the level of commitment and capability of our trainees and underlines the commitment our firms have towards them. Those figures alone show the positive response of both firms and trainees to the programme, plus there is even more to it than that. The feedback we get from employers is that the trainee programme works. It gives them access to an excellent source of talent they may not have been able to find otherwise and in the process they are diversifying their workforce in a highly progressive and positive manner.

HK: It’s truly fantastic progress Karis, and hugely inspiring. Well done to you and to all involved and thank you for providing this detailed update.